Gates says North-South Korea talks possible (VIDEO)

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said talks between North and South Korea are possible and would pave the wave to broader six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, although he reiterated the U.S.' frequent warning that Pyongyang end its "belligerent" behavior.

However, a South Korean official told the New York Times that an inter-Korean summit between the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, was likely "a bridge too far" in the present climate.

Gates, winding up his week-long Asia trip with a meetings in Seoul with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the country's defense minister on Friday, said that any return to multinational talks with Pyongyang could only come after the two Koreas met.

South Korean officials have, so far, rejected direct talks with the North. And a senior South Korean government official told the New York Times that no bilateral talks were possible until the North agreed to Seoul’s preconditions about the agenda, which would include a discussion of the sinking of a South Korean warship last March, the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November and North Korean nuclear activities.

Gates also reiterated his position that broader six-party talks among regional powers aimed at dismantling the North Korean nuclear programs were only possible if Pyongyang took action to show it was serious about negotiations.

"When, or if, North Korea’s actions show cause to believe that negotiations can be productive and conducted in good faith, then we could see a return to the six-party talks," he said. "But the DPRK [North Korea] leadership must stop these dangerous provocations and take concrete steps to show that they will begin meeting their international obligations."

President Lee on Friday also stressed the need to improve strained inter-Korean ties, according to his office, the Cheong Wa Dae.

Lee told Gates that North Korea was expected to declare itself a "powerful and prosperous" nation in April 2012, and that 2011 was therefore crucial for settling outstanding issues between the two Koreas.

The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK, in a statement carried Dec. 16, 2010, by the country's official Korean Central News Agency ( KCNA), said that the nation wanted peace so that it could secure foreign investment.

Kim, a former top military officer who took charge of the defense ministry after the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, told Gates that the security threat to South Korea remained large. He has promised a stronger military response to any future attacks from Pyongyang.

"In order to respond effectively to North Korea we must act from a position of strength," he said.

The South Korean official who spoke to the New York Times said the United States was not pressing South Korea to resume the six-party process, which ended in 2009 when North Korea withdrew. 

Nor did he expect direct talks between the North and South Korean leaders. 

“I wouldn’t rule it out categorically,” the senior official said, “but in this current climate it seems like a bridge too far.”

He said the recent revelation of a new uranium enrichment facility in the North was “a very, very serious challenge and a real provocation.”